NORTHAMPTONSHIRE V LEICESTERSHIRE PREVIEW
To say that Northamptonshire and Leicestershire have ‘previous’ at Wantage Road would be a serious understatement. Who were the County’s very first home opponents in first-class cricket 114 years ago this month? You’ve guessed it.
Rain ruined that particular contest in June 1905 but subsequent meetings have more than made up for it. And sentimental Northamptonshire supporters will look no further than the tear-jerker eight decades ago which saw thousands (yes, thousands) of joyful and relieved spectators gather in front of the old pavilion when the match was done-and-dusted. All because the team managed to avoid what would have been an unwanted century.
There’s no way to spin this particular stat, Northamptonshire had gone 99 County Championship matches without a single victory when the Foxes arrived for the Whitsun Bank Holiday match in 1939.
One of the Leicestershire players, Frank Prentice, told Dennis Brookes that with Aussie spinner Jack Walsh in the side the game was sure to be over in two days. Sure enough, it was – although not quite in the way Prentice had foreseen. Walsh finished with figures of 2-157, Brookes hit 187 and Northamptonshire won by an innings and 193 runs…in two days! It was our first Championship win since May 1935 and skipper Robert Nelson was called on to the pavilion balcony to make a speech.
A few months later the country was at war, of course – and coincidentally Northamptonshire were entertaining Leicestershire when the First World War broke out in August 1914. The County won a thriller by four runs (thanks, predictably, to the bowling of George Thompson and Billy East) although the visitors batted a man short after Captain Aubrey Sharp was called to rejoin his regiment.
Tussles between the two counties in the 1970s were occasionally feisty affairs. Having a Steele brother on each side – David for Northamptonshire, John for Leicestershire – honed the competitive edge even more sharply. In 1974 Bishan Bedi harvested nine wickets in the match and left Northamptonshire needing only 69 on the final day. They had scored 54 by lunch when it rained. Surely we couldn’t be denied? The teams hung around and eventually, after tea, conditions improved sufficiently to allow Roy Virgin and Steele (DS) to finish the job. A close call, though.
In contrast, there was no question that the 2001 match was heading for a draw at teatime. Set 288, Leicestershire were only three wickets down. But the pitch was turning and Northamptonshire’s three-pronged spin attack – Graeme Swann, Jason Brown and a 19-year-old making his debut, named Monty Panesar – soon got to work in the final session. The last seven wickets fell for 18 and David Ripley’s men won a hugely satisfying victory by 202 runs.
NORTHAMPTONSHIRE V LEICESTERSHIRE
WON BY NORTHAMPTONSHIRE: 44
WON BY LEICESTERSHIRE: 50
LAST TIME OUT…
Bowlers mainly held sway at Wantage Road last June with little to choose between the sides until Northamptonshire collapsed in their second innings, losing seven wickets for 53. Leicestershire then scored the 217 needed for a six-wicket win with a day to spare.